Local Officials Breathe a Sigh of Relief In Response To Biden Victory

“Under normal circumstances, people would probably not notice much [of a difference from new administration] in the beginning,” says State Senator Eric Lesser, who represents a district including Longmeadow. “But, this is a very unique time. Maybe not since WWII, has there been so much at stake.” On the other hand, State Representative Brian Ashe, who also represents a district including Longmeadow notes that in terms of local government the change of presidential administration, “really has no impact. It’s more of who they are and what they stand for.” The Vice Chair of the Select Board, Marc Strange agrees that federal politics generally don’t strongly impact local communities, but says, “there’s been, a bit of a change in mentality.” LHS History teacher Gideon Fischer says he’s “hopeful that the increases in hate speech, the violence, and conflicts will go down, as Trump has obviously used it as a way to appeal to particular groups.” 

Representative Brian Ashe tells of a conversation he had in a line meeting then candidate Biden. Rep. Ashe’s father had passed from Glioblastoma brain cancer –the same disease President-elect Biden’s son Beau died from in 2015. Rep. Ashe says, “I just wanted to say how sorry I was that he had to go through that with his son. He just grabbed me by the hands and just looked me in the eyes. And you could tell he was being sincere, he says, ‘I am so, so sorry, you had to go through this insidious disease…’ and he put his arm around me.” In a speech later that night, Biden mentioned the disease, “obviously it wasn’t just because of me. The fact that he took the time to understand how it impacted me. And he didn’t just have a canned speech, he also ad-libbed and put in things that were important to him. He displayed things that are very important to see in our President: empathy, sympathy, caring, understanding, and moral character. This and the ability to put ego aside and do what’s right for all people, things we are desperately lacking right now. For me, that solidified, this is the type of person that we need. Somebody who actually cares about people.”
REPRESENTATIVE ASHE

Rep. Ashe notes, “In Longmeadow, President-elect Biden had more votes than President Trump. [His election] is letting people know that, we’re going to get back on track.” Mr. Fischer says, “President Trump went in and basically tried to change by executive action, everything he could that Obama did.” Mr. Fischer highlights Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, loosening environmental rules, and banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. “Those things,” he says, “will be changed on January 20th, just by Biden’s signature. A lot of people in Longmeadow, given it’s a liberal town, will be appreciative of that.” Mr. Strange notes that many of Longmeadow’s residents’ priorities line up with Democratic policy. “[They] prioritize education, open space, parks, recreation, things of that nature,” he says. He also highlights a change that residents could feel locally would be in the form of “more money being available in the way of grants, state aid, local aid, for things like parks and recreation or support for the schools.”

“I think it’s kind of ironic that the country’s oldest president we’ve ever had, Joe Biden, is going to be someone that I think helps put young people at ease.”

State Senator Eric Lesser

“You’re going to see major changes at the Department of Education in terms of high school students,” says Sen. Lesser –an LHS alumni, emphasizing how a new administration can directly impact Longmeadow schools. He touched on the fact that Betsy Devos, our current Secretary of Education admitted that she was not a supporter of federal support for education. He then went on to say, “That will almost certainly change with whoever Biden picks to be the Secretary of Education. That will have impacts, probably in a very immediate sense for our high school and for all of our students.” Sen. Lesser foresees an approach to education in line with Democratic party policy, “You’re going to see more money for schools. You’re going to see efforts around helping students with student loan debt.” This could impact many students around the country who have been hit hard by COVID-19, making it very difficult to pay off these loans. 

“The most immediate way you’re going to see a change in Presidential policy is how COVID-19 is handled,” says Sen. Lesser. “Right off the bat, for the first time, the president, the governor, and the board of selectmen, will all be essentially saying the same thing,” he says. Biden’s priority in ending the pandemic impacts when schools can reopen in a more normal fashion –something that the President-elect has publicly supported calling it an essential service. Mr. Stange says he’s excited about Biden’s support for a federal widespread testing effort. He says,“That’s how you minimize the spread along with social distancing and wearing the mask, which we know works.” 

One of Biden’s controversial campaign promises was a nationwide “mask mandate.” Mr. Fischer questions if Biden would be able deliver on his promise legally, but he acknowledges that Biden could encourage individual states to institute mask mandates (something Massachusetts has done). With President Trump gone, Mr. Fischer says “it will give people an opportunity who might be Republican to take more rational action.” Rep. Ashe touches on the importance of the power of example, “It’s going to be a tough pill for [die hard Trump supporters] to swallow because a lot of them sadly thought COVID was a hoax where it was supposed to end the day after the election.That’s going to be Biden’s struggle: getting those 30-40% diehard Trump followers to believe and to understand the science.”

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 “We faced two crises simultaneously, and they’re interrelated to each other.” says Lesser, pointing out the connection between the pandemic and the economy. Under President Trump and with the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy suffered its worst blow since the Great Depression. Sen. Lesser served as the Director of Strategic Planning at the Council of Economic Advisors during the Obama presidency –part of the force tasked with economic policy to pull the country out of the 2008 recession.  He worked on the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, which at the time was the largest public investment since the New Deal.  In his view, stopping the spread of COVID-19 is most important to get the economy back on track. “This is something that Trump never understood,” he says.

Senator Eric Lesser worked on President Obama’s 2008 campaign as “Ground Logistics Coordinator” during the general election, traveling with the candidate to 47 states and six countries. After his inauguration Sen. Lesser became Senior Aid David Axelrod’s Special Assistant working behind the wall of the Oval Office.  Sen. Lesser also served as Director of Strategic Planning at the Council of Economic Advisors, while the Obama administration combated the 2008 Recession. He says that Biden is “very well well-prepared to do the same now.”
STATE SENATOR LESSER

Rep. Ashe says, “Historically the economy has done better under democratic presidents.”  According to a 2016 analysis published by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee which highlighted that economic growth, job creation and industrial production have all been stronger under Democratic administrations.  Mr. Fischer on the other hand, questions how much of an impact a presidential administration has on the economy saying that until COVID-19, “the condition of the economy was no different under Obama, as it was [under] Trump.”

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A centerpiece of Biden’s campaign was the slogan “Build Back Better” –part of which means a plan to rebuild the economy post-COVID-19 to fight structural inequality. Biden sticks with the party position of raising the minimum wage. To note, a higher minimum wage has already been enacted in Massachusetts, and the state as a whole is raising the state minimum wage by a dollar each year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2023. Rep. Ashe brings up a classic example of uneasiness surrounding raising the minimum wage, he says, “[The owner of Longmeadow’s The Kitchen] was initially concerned when we were raising it.  It’s small, but the more he pays, that means he’s going to have to raise the prices. That’s why we decided to stagger it, give businesses and people an opportunity to get used to it.” An argument brought up by Macroeconomics teacher, Mr. Flanagan, is that people who have already been making above minimum wage may feel disgruntled when fellow co-workers who haven’t been a part of their workplace as long are now getting paid above minimum wage. This could lead to employees feeling mistreated. He also cautions against this noting that prices would increase as businesses are forced to pay more for labor by a price floor, which could erase the benefit of raising the minimum wage. 

If minimum wage were to be increased nationwide, 1.3 million households would be raised above the poverty line, but on the other hand, this could cause a decrease in the amount of jobs available. The U.S. government directly employs nearly 15% of the country’s workforce, with about ⅔ of that employment (10% of the overall workforce) occurring at the local government level, including local schools. Though employees of local government aren’t paid as low of wages as labor-intensive workers, a significant portion of local government employees’ wages would rise as well with the increase of minimum wage. 

In Longmeadow, as well as nationally, the conversation around race and inequality had found its way into the elections. Since 2016, hate crimes against many religions and minorities have increased throughout the country. Per the May 12th Boston Herald, anti-semitic incidents remained rampant in Massachusetts this year with the highest rate in the last 40 years. Anti-Semitic white supremacist groups have spewed a wave of neo-Nazi graffiti, attacks on property, and arson attacks, including the one that occurred this summer against the Jewish retirment facility Ruth’s House in Longmeadow.  Mr. Strange says that “bad things like misogyny, racism and, gender bias, things of that nature have become more mainstream. With Joe Biden, getting elected into office, you’re going to see that stuff, take a back seat again, and we’re going to get back to having an expectation of decency and courtesy.”

Given that Biden has made developing green energy infrastructure a highlight of his campaign, Mr. Gold is excited to see how the federal government will support local green initiatives. Mr. Gold has forwarded a proposal to convert the old DPW into a solar field, a plan known as a Community Solar System where community members who can’t install solar panels on their property can buy into the project and reap rewards. “The tax credits for solar installation, they’re all scheduled to expire in 2021,” he says. “All the tax advantages of [participating in the project] will go away for partners and developers. If a Biden administration would extend that, they’d give us a little bit of breathing room to really do it right.”

Fellow Harvard classmate South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg campaigned with State Senator Eric Lesser for Obama in the 2008 election. After running as a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2020, becoming an unlikely front runner at the outset of the race and winning the Iowa caucus, he conceded and endorsed Joe Biden. The President-elect was named Buttigieg Transportation Secretary, prompting excitement from Massachusetts lawmakers. Former Palmer Town Councillor Donald Blais Jr. discussed on social media that in an interaction in New Hampshire last year, the candidate mentioned Sen. Lesser and the plan for East-West rail. Donald Blais wrote, “We both agreed that it was a great idea for our region both to combat climate change and to give a big boost to our local economy. He said if elected this project, like so many, would be a priority.”

In terms of his infrastructure development, Sen. Lesser, who has led the support for the East-West “Commonwealth” Rail initiative, is excited about Biden’s green infrastructure plan. “I think very quickly, President Biden is going to work on delivering an infrastructure package,” says Lesser. Notably, Representative Neal, who represents the district which includes Longmeadow, holds a powerful role both in the Deomcratic Party and in the House as the Chairman of the House Ways And Means committee, and has been supportive of this initiative having already spoken to the Trump White House about it and traveling by rail through Connecticut to tout the successes Connecticut achieved with their improved rail infrastructure. Lesser says that an infrastructure project like east-west rail would help alleviate economic inequalities as well.

While undocumented immigration isn’t prevalent in Longmeadow, Springfield’s councilers voted to make themselves a Sanctuary City last year, overriding a veto from their Democratic mayor.  It’s estimated by the Migration Policy Institute that 215,000 undocumented immigrants live in Massachussets with a significant amount residing in the Springfield area. Mr. Fischer comments on Biden’s ability to work bipartisan deals in the past and says “Biden and some of the more moderate Republicans in the Senate might be able to finally pass the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.”

“I think it’s kind of ironic that the country’s oldest president we’ve ever had, Joe Biden, is going to be someone that I think helps put young people at ease.” says Sen. Lesser. “It’s really quite a time to be alive. Quite frankly I’m excited for your generation. Your lives were upended in a way that really no other previous generation saw happen and you’re going to be part of rebuilding and putting things back together,” he says. Rep. Ashe concurs with Lesser, “We’re going to start having that mutual respect. We’re going to start listening to people and respecting people’s opinions.”

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Julia Rice ‘23

Features Editor

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